9.28.2014

COMPASSIONATE MERCY:

Where I live, there are thousands of people who are living in darkness -- not in a lack of light; but in spiritual darkness.  No doubt, it would be no less true if you inserted your city's name into that statement.  Sadly, many of those souls will leave this life before the end of 2014 and behold their first glimpse of eternity.  Many will leave before the end of the month; before the end of the week.  Maybe even before I'm done typing this.

Do those souls -- drunks, wife-beaters, murderers, thieves, etc -- deserve God's wrath in the eternity that awaits them?  Unquestionably.  Do I, however, deserve His mercy? Surely not, for I am the worst sinner I know.  For some reason, however, God, has chosen to show His great mercy and compassion to sinners galore.

The ancient prophet of Yahweh -- Jonah -- faced a situation in which his enemies (the very enemies of God) were subjects of God's mercy and compassion.  That account is over in Jonah 4.  Yahweh's mercy was so shocking that it would be similar to Him showing mercy upon Islamic State militants today.  Jonah was ecstatic shocked; but I have to admit, I think I'd be ecstatic shocked too.  Jonah was pleased angry at God for showing His great compassion on a people of His own choosing; but I have to admit, I think I'd be pleased angry too.  Had Jonah forgotten that he, too, was once a sinner not deserving of God's mercy?  Yet, God, in His great compassion, showed mercy even to him.  I sometimes forget that I, too, was (and still am, if not for Jesus Christ) undeserving of God's mercy.

I'm getting to my main point in just a moment, but first let me draw your attention to two verses that stand out to me in this Jonah account.

First, Jonah's confession that God is a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love; that He is eager to turn back from destroying people (verse 2).  Did you notice that?  Eager to turn back from His wrath!  Truly, this is bold!

Next, is God's announcement that Ninevah (insert your city's name here) had, at the time, more than 120,000 (insert any number you wish here) people living in spiritual darkness.  Then He asked Jonah, "Shouldn't I feel sorry for such a great city?"  It will forever boggle my mind why God would ever want to restrain His hand from instantly destroying His enemies.  Yet, He does.

As I consider that conversational exchange, I must ask myself, How does this inform and influence my involvement in the arts, or forensic science, or politics, or law, or fatherhood?  Do I use those arenas to extend God's compassion and mercy to my city, workplace, family? Are people relieved when I arrive, suspecting that I will provide strong hope, compassion, and gentleness?  Or do they dread my arrival, knowing that I will do nothing but gripe and complain and bring them down with me?

These are sobering questions I've asked myself, but I think I'm afraid to hear the answers.  If I truly believe this, it seems to me that I should live a life of compassion for the outsiders, the broken, the not-so-attractive, the unpopular.  Instead, I routinely choose judgement and condemnation.

May God help me.

9.09.2014

If There's a Design...

video

I recently visited the greater Washington DC area, and decided to make an exodus from my hotel room for a while.  I chose to hike the Union Dam Trail in the Patapsco State Park in Ellicott City, MD.

Watch the video to hear more about this stack of rocks.


This is the Union Dam tunnel, built in 1902.



 Sitting on a rock in the middle of the Patapsco River.

8.27.2014

"The Book of Revelation Made Clear", by Tim LaHaye & Timothy E. Parker (book review)


I was hoping for something meaty when I requested to review this his book.  However, very little impressed me about it.  Instead, I found it to be lacking any considerable substance.  But since mom always told me, "If you don't have anything nice to say, then don't say anything at all", then I guess I better say something positive about it, eh?  Here it goes: if you read this book cover-to-cover, you will have read the entire book of Revelation :-)

That's because each and every verse of Revelation is contained in this particular book, and each chapter correlates to a chapter in Revelation.  So, as a quick reference, if you're looking for light, simple commentary on Revelation 12, then simply turn to chapter 12 of this book.

Each chapter is broken in to two or three segments, leading off with a short 3-question quiz. Following the quiz is the biblical passage, and then a short (very short, in most cases) commentary.  I don't think it's possible to "make clear" the book of Revelation...or Daniel, or Ezekiel, or Isaiah.  Volumes have been written on those challenging books, and a mere 187 pages is sure not to do it for Revelation!  One thing is clear, though: If you're familiar with Tim LaHaye's eschatology, this book is a simplified version of his "left behind" rapture theory.

Since I'm providing a book review, I have to ignore mom's advice for just a moment and be completely honest about it.  If you're looking for commentary to really sink your teeth into, then this book is sure to disappoint.

RATING: I give "The Book of Revelation Made Clear" just a single star out of five, and that's only because it contains all of the book of Revelation.  Otherwise, LaHaye has not really added anything to the conversation worth mention.  I personally wouldn't waste my money on it...for myself or for a gift.  Definitely not worth $17, in my opinion.

DISCLAIMER:  I received this book free of charge from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine, and I was not encouraged to provide a positive review.

8.05.2014

In Defense of Life:

Veiled behind a plea for equality in "reproductive health" is a chart showing the disparity in regulation of womens' bodies compared to mens'.  The title of Julianne Ross's recent article, "One Troubling Chart Shows How Many Times Politicians Regulated Men and Women's Bodies in 2014", is misleading enough, let alone the fact that her -- and her position's -- arguments hold little water.

As Ross would admit later in the body of her article, legislators have only attempted such regulation (which I'll address in a moment) 468 times.  Legislation that has actually passed, however, is a whopping 21 "restrictions" (as she calls them) across 13 states.  Even if someone wanted to suggest 21:0 women:men reproductive health legislation ratio is astronomically askew, they would do well to admit why legislation is proposed in the first place: women are capable of carrying life inside them; men are not.  Period.

Let's make one thing clear: this debate is not one surrounding reproductive health -- for that is only the cleverly-worded disguise.  Instead, this debate is a matter of "reproductive health" -- also known as "abortion rights".  Ross would agree, for she wrote, "It is about the unrelenting obsession with regulating a woman’s womb."  Therein lies the real issue of "reproductive health": the life inside the womb.

The pro-life position is not so much interested in legislating what women can and cannot do in the privacy of their own homes with the sexual partners of their choice and in the manner of their choosing.  Those are different arguments altogether.  Instead, the pro-life position is ultimately concerned with the life of the unborn child -- a person who has no ability to protect herself.  Her defenders are those who care enough to stand up against the atrocities committed against her and her unborn brothers and sisters.  Her defenders will face the ire of those who wish to silence her forever, who say he is merely attempting to "restrict" a woman's "reproductive health".

To show the shallowness of their position, Ross quotes pro-choice advocate and Senator, Nina Turner (D-Ohio), as saying, "If [representatives] want to make intimately personal decisions about women’s lives and their anatomy, I strongly urge them to go to medical school. But until then, stay out of a woman’s womb!”  But let's clarify what her words mean: Only doctors are capable of deciding the fate of the unborn.  Only doctors can save or take life.

Applying the Senator's logic to other examples, one might conclude that only those who are capable of defending the lives of their fellow American citizens are soldiers and police officers.  Yet, many non-uniformed heroes walk our streets every day.  If it is doctors who must be relied upon to protect the lives of those in the womb, why are many of those doctors killing instead?  Therefore, it seems apparent that we absolutely must rely upon non-medical voices to defend the unborn.

I don't want to spend the remainder of my space commenting on the foolish positions and bills six female legislators presented to Congress, which Ross briefly discussed.  You can read for yourself how their attempts don't meet the same threshold as that of defending human life.  Instead, I'd rather address the real issue at hand, and conclude with a word or two of encouragement.

The real issue at hand is not one of flesh-and-blood.  It is one more diabolical than that.  Here it is: Satan hates Jesus Christ, and will do whatever he can to attack anything that gets him closest to the heart of God.  Therefore, he assaults the unborn with weapons of twisted logic, using catch-phrases like "reproductive health" to cover up abortion; he invades marriage, the very picture of Christ's relationship with his redeemed people -- the Church; he besieges sexuality, convincing us that the consequences of sex outside of God's design are not really that harmful.  I could continue, but my intent is that we recognize the war for life is being waged on a supernatural scale, but fought on a human battlefield.


It is not my intent to condemn anyone who has faced or is facing a crisis pregnancy.  I'm willing to bet we all know someone who is or has been there, whether we know it or not.  The sheer numbers speak loudly.  However, there is hope in Jesus Christ. You are fighting the guilt that has overcome you because of your sinful choices; you've carried out plans that were harmful to you or others; you cry yourself to sleep at night because of your shame.  I think we've all been there a time or two.  But Jesus Christ said, "I have not come to condemn the world, but to save the world, to give life!"  That's a far cry from the Devil's purpose: steal, kill, and destroy, and I'd say he's been doing all three quite well for a long time.

You don't have to live the rest of your days in guilt and shame.  You can have renewed life, and you can have it now.  And that is the reason we aim to defend all of life.

7.27.2014

The Delight of God:

As any good researcher would do prior to writing a theological blog posting, I posed a question to my Facebook friends: "What do you think God think about you?  Does he have any thoughts or feelings regarding you?"

The answers varied from, "Forgiven" and "His child", to "God is needed elsewhere. I'm just fine", and "I doubt God cares."  The responses came publicly and privately from the range of those who consider them followers of Jesus Christ to those who consider themselves Atheists/Skeptics.  This particular posting is not intended to convince the Atheist/skeptic.  While I hope it does just that, it is intended to serve more as encouragement for my brothers and sisters in Christ. 

It breaks my heat that a number of Jesus followers have a view of God as a spiritual curmudgeon who perpetually shakes his head at our sins and failures.  To be sure, God desires His redeemed children to behave like redeemed children.  There is no doubt about that.  However, it seems apparent that many think they don't measure up and that we will always struggle to please God.

So here it is, brothers and sisters.  God's very word proclaims it: God is delighted in you!  There, I said it.  You don't have to continue agreeing with the devil and condemning yourself any more.  The Old Testament prophet, Zepheniah, (3:17) proclaims, "He (God) delights over you with singing."  That same passage refers to God's "gladness" and his "rejoicing" over those of us who are His people (aka, "in Christ").  Gladness is the "feeling of pleasure, joy, or delight; causing happiness"; and Rejoicing is the "showing of great pleasure, joy, or delight."  The former is a noun, while the latter is a verb.  Delight is what God feels about you, and rejoicing in song is what he does for you!

Is that difficult to believe: That the Creator of the vastness of space and the smallness of grains of sand thinks this way about you and me?  My mind is boggled by it, yet it gives me great encouragement.  The Psalmist (37:23) wrote, "The Lord directs the steps of the godly, and He delights in every detail of their lives."  You may be tempted to think, "Yeah, but I'm not godly, so how could He ever delight in me?  If you could see into my private affairs, you'd know God doesn't think of me as godly.

Well, the Psalmist answered that notion in the next verse: "Though they stumble, they will never fall.  The Lord holds them by the hand."  The word of God affirms that the godly stumble.  YET, God still holds them by hand...and He STILL delights in them...in US!  Notice what it DOESN'T say: that God delights in us only when we do right; only when we've read our Bible faithfully for 14 hours a day, or only when we've prayed for the other 10.  No, He loved and saved us EVEN WHILE WE WERE STILL SINNERS, so what do you think you could ever do to change his mind or opinion about you?

We may be tempted to think the Gospel merely gets us INTO God's good favor, and that afterwards He lowers the proverbial boom, waiting for a reason to reject us once again.  But that's not how it is!  He loves us because of one simple, yet profound, word: GRACE.  By God's grace, He has poured out His love, mercy, and favor upon us.  He draws us to Christ, and he sets those of us who trust in Christ as His delight.

You bring God great pleasure, joy, and gladness because when He looks at you He sees Jesus Christ...and Jesus is the beloved Son who brings the Father great joy (Matt 3:17, 17:5).  This is great news for the saint and the sinner alike!  For the saint, because you do not need to walk each day of your life in perpetual condemnation; for the sinner, because you, too, can be the object of the Creator's delight.  There is nothing you've done that's so bad that God will never accept you; and if you're a follower of Jesus, there's nothing you've done that's so bad that God will reject you.

So, go.  Live every day in the delight of God, and know every day that you are the object of God's great delight.  When things get bad, imagine the Father in Heaven singing over you!!!

6.24.2014

"New Spirit-Filled Life Study Bible (New International Version), Edited by Jack Hayford (review)

I received “The New Spirit Filled Life Study Bible, New International Version" from Thomas Nelson Publishers for review.  I previously reviewed the same Bible in the New King James and New Living Translation/Version, and have many of the same opinions about the NIV as I do about the NKJV and NLT.

CROSS-REFERENCES:
I formerly used a study bible that contained cross-references in the sub-headings of each chapter.  For instance, if the parable of the sower was named in Matthew 13, it also provided the “address” to see the passage at Mark 4, and conversely.  This study Bible does not have this feature.  There are still margin and footnote cross-references (in smaller print, of course), but not the quick cross-referencing that I was used to.

COLOR SCHEMES:
I am not a fan of the color scheme in the NIV Bible compared to the color scheme of the NLT Bible.  The NKJV employed a blue/gray hue, while the NLT employs a maroon/black hue.  The NIV, however, is comprised of its notes sections in two shades of pink for "Word Wealth" and "Truth in Action" sections, and gray in "Kingdom Dynamics" sections.  As a man, I honestly am not sure I'd want to be seen in a public place reading a pink-tinted book.  You may call it trivial, but it's just the way it is.  This kind of stuff matters to guys.  So, the ladies might appreciate the color schemes of this version.
The following headings contain similar opinions as were written for the NKJV and NLT:

WORD WEALTH:
Each book contains several Word Wealth insets.  These are small boxes that pertain to particular words in the text that the editors believed would be helpful.  What is great is that these boxes are not filled with an author’s personal opinions, or how a particular denomination believes.  Instead, words are lightly dissected in their Hebrew or Greek usage.  This feature does some of the legwork for those times when you wish you had an exhaustive concordance handy.

KINGDOM DYNAMICS:
Another similar inset box contained within the text is this Kingdom Dynamics feature.  This box contains information for how the text applies to the Kingdom of God, what the first hearers/believers were experiencing, etc.  It provides a more detailed commentary about an important theme in the passage.  This commentary is slightly different from those “bottom-of-the-page” commentaries where a particular author tells you what s/he believes about, let’s say, the “rapture” for example.

COMMENTARY:
So naturally, this brings me to the next point: commentaries.  Have you ever read a study Bible by so-and-so and you wished s/he would leave personal or debatable opinions out of it?  That’s been done in this Bible.  Since there are so many contributors to this Bible, it is highly unlikely they all believed the same things on those debatable issues.  And those opinions have been omitted from the commentaries.  So if you’re looking for someone to tell you what to believe at all turns, this isn’t the Bible for you.

VERSE DIVISIONS:
This version makes the reading more readable than the NKJV.  Where the NKJV chopped each verse into a new line, the NIV is written more in paragraph form.  For example, if you’re reading Acts 1:10-11 in the NKJV, it looks like this:

10 And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel,
11 who also said…

I don’t like it that way because it’s choppy.  Do you remember your high school or college literature class where you were required to read a poem aloud?  I know you didn’t do this, but as you listened to your classmates read the poem line by line, you and everyone else could tell when one line concluded and the next began.  It sounded choppy rather than “flowy”.  That’s what this broken-verse format does in this Bible, so I’ll just come out and say it: I hate this feature.  Although I’m relatively certain the editors’ rationale was to make each verse easier to find in rapid searches, I’m positively against chopping up paragraphs like this.  ‘Nuff said.

But the NIV reads more like how a person would expect literature to appear.

TRUTH-IN-ACTION:
This section completes each book.  Numerical references throughout the Biblical text may point the reader to one or more of these points.  The Truth section briefly explains the history behind the passage’s theme.  The Action section describes what the Holy Spirit intends for us to do with the given theme or information in the text.  It’s brilliant!  For what good is reading the Bible if we don’t also make life application?

RATING & RECOMMENDATION:
I give the NIV 3 1/2 stars.  I'm not much of a fan of the NIV translation itself, nor am I a fan of the pink tint, but all that said, this one is still a good study Bible...especially for those who like pink :-)  You'll have to decide whether you like NIV, NLT, or NKJV reading.  In any case, you won't be disappointed.


DISCLAIMER: I received this Bible free of charge from Thomas Nelson Publishers (Book Look Bloggers) in exchange for my unbiased review.  All opinions are mine.  I was not threatened or coerced in any way to provide a positive review.

6.08.2014

"I Will Never Forget", by Elaine C. Pereira (book review)


How does one prepare to care for loved ones suffering from dementia?  When loved ones seem to forget simple things, we may have the tendency to write them of as random quirks.  But when reflecting on memories, it's then that we clearly see what should have been red flags that somehow slipped past our attention.

In her debut book, Elaine Pereira captures the memories and struggles she now cherishes in her light-hearted account of her mother's battle with dementia. As I read the book, I reflected on my wife's grandmother who was also stricken with this disease, and although her life and Elaine's mother's were different, some of the details were unfortunately the same.

PURPOSE OF THE BOOK:  After I finished reading the book, I was able to speak with Elaine to ask her a few questions.  I was honestly inquisitive about why she wrote the book because it didn't seem to have a singular message.  Instead, it came across as a memoir.  Elaine explained that it was just that: a memoir.  She did not want her mother, who was academically and professionally a successful woman, to be remembered as the person she was in her later years.  Instead, she wanted readers to remember Betty for who she truly was.  She wants people to remember Betty, not the disease that stole her personality.

I would suppose Elaine would like her readers in similar situations to take this same notion away from the book.  When you struggle to care for your loved one suffering from this disease, recognize his/her characteristics and traits are not who those loved ones truly are.  Instead, behavior and memory flaws are the results of a horrible disease that steals the memories of good people. It is easy to get frustrated with the afflicted, but we must remember that it is not the individual person's fault, but the disease's.

FORMAT:  Writing a historical account is challenging, in that the writer must tell linear history in a way that is interesting.  That said, I truly enjoyed the way Elaine wrote this memoir.  She wrote it in a back-and-forth fashion, not sticking to a particular timeline.  

For instance, Elaine would reflect in flashback-fashion on a memory she had of, say, her mother teaching her how to bake, or a time when she got in trouble as a youngster.  Because she included funny stories of their younger lives, it was easy to like Betty and Elaine.  After telling a particular story, Elaine would then jump ahead to recent past years to tie the previous story to the point she attempted to make in the chapter.  While some readers may not like this back-and-forth style, I found it enjoyable because I didn't feel bogged down with matters of chronology.  Instead, I could simply enjoy the story for the purpose of the story.

TRAGEDY:  I could never imagine the pain and grief entailed in burying my own children -- no matter how old we may be.  Elaine included the heart-breaking stories of Betty stoically laying two of her children to rest, along with her husband in later years.  Through it all, Betty was a champion, and I never sensed Betty ever complained "woe is me".   Just when you think your life is difficult, read a book about the struggles others have faced.

EDITING:  I've read a number of self-published books over the years, and as far as editing is concerned, they are usually pretty weak in the editing department.  However, this book was absolutely flawless.  I complimented Elaine on this fact that she had no spelling, word-use, or grammatical errors (that I could see), and that I found it refreshing to read.  She said the self-publishing industry has given itself a bad reputation because given the right amount of money anyone can publish anything -- good or bad.  Instead, she hopes people will recognize there are quality authors who are self publishing for one reason or another, and that we simply need to sift through the other stuff.

CONCLUSION:  So, that's the purpose of this review.  If you find yourself in the situation of caring for a loved who is suffering from dementia, you are not alone.  Maybe this book will be a heads-up to you if you're in the early stages with the disease; or maybe it will be a comforter knowing others struggle with you.  I hope this book will capture the attention from professionals in the medical field, and I think it will capture the interests of families in a similar situation as Elaine.

RATING: While "I Will Never Forget" is not a page-turner, I found it enjoyable to read.  I give this one 4 stars.  I typically give 5 to those "I-can't-put-this-one-down" kind of book.  So, 4 is my opinion that this is a pretty high quality book.

PROCEEDS: A portion of all the proceeds from sales of this book go to support Alzheimer's research.  If you buy on June 21st, "the longest day", however, Elaine will donate double to this much-needed research.

DISCLAIMER: I received this book free of charge from the author.  I was not coerced to provide a positive review of it.  All opinions are mine.